Saint Paul Winter Carnival CEO Kate Kelly leads the tradition, with or without the snow
So Kelly made bold changes, reshaping what some consider the city’s defining event into a profitable—or at least break-even—venture. She recommended centralizing festivities at Harriet Island (with easy access to the Mississippi River for snow-making equipment and power sources for keeping ice sculptures intact), combining the Grande Day and Torchlight parades, and turning the black-tie coronation into a people’s ball. The board approved, but the volunteers, who staff the events and fuel the festival with their participation, most decidedly did not. “We had a town hall meeting attended by 300 volunteers, and they were angry,” says Kelly. “We were so anxious to sell the board on our ideas, we forgot the volunteers. Ultimately, they—and we—rejected a wholesale change.”
Both parades will march on this year, and the coronation will remain ballroom-bound. Skits and rituals will continue to retell the Boreas myth. However, Kelly’s marketing savvy and vision to keep the carnival around “for the next 120 years” does mean there will be some changes. An ice maze and giant snow slide are planned this year on Harriet Island, along with activities such as an international dogsled rally, a wine-and-food tasting, a Will Steger–led overnight camp out, and a partnership with Como Park Ski Hill for free snowboarding and skiing events.
“For me, it’s now about rebuilding the brand and rebuilding trust,” she says. “Although there are more than 100 events over the 10 days, we have worked to focus on fewer events of greater quality.” In addition, Kelly invites interested citizens to visualize perfect festival weather: “High teens to low twenties, no wind and sun. Those are the dream days.”